MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Maria Sharapova barely missed a beat in her first match back at the Australian Open since a failed doping test in 2016 resulted in a 15-month ban from tennis.
One of just two former champions in the women’s draw, Sharapova recovered from an early break in the second set and closed out her 6-1, 6-4 victory over Tatjana Maria with an ace on Tuesday at Margaret Court Arena. She celebrated by twirling, waving and blowing kisses to the crowd.
“It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been back here — obviously I wanted to enjoy the moment,” the 2008 Australian Open champion and three-time runner-up said in an on-court TV interview. “It was really meaningful for me to be out here.”
Sharapova was banned for after testing positive for the drug meldonium here in 2016, when she reached the quarterfinals, and finished last year ranked No. 60.
The five-time major winner got vocal support from fans during and after her opening match.
“I’ve got shivers. It means a lot to me,” Sharapova said. “I cherish these moments, I love it.”
Sharapova could next meet No. 14-seeded Anastasija Sevastova, who beat her at the U.S. Open last year in her return to a Grand Slam to tournament.
Angelique Kerber, the 2016 champion, continued her resurgent run with a 6-0, 6-4 win over fellow German Anna-Lena Friedsam.
Kerber raced through the first set in 17 minutes but had her struggles in the second and was broken twice before converting her second match point and extending her streak to 10 consecutive wins.
She opened the year by winning four singles matches at the Hopman Cup, where Germany lost the final to Switzerland, and won the Sydney International last week for her first title since the 2016 U.S. Open.
Kerber made her major breakthrough two years ago in Australia, where she beat Serena Williams in the final, and went on to reach the Wimbledon final and win the U.S. Open in a year when she rose to No. 1.
Her ranking slid into the 20s in 2017, but she’s coming back into the kind of form which makes her a title contender at Melbourne Park.
“I’m just enjoying it on court again,” Kerber said. “Something is going on with Australia and me. I love this country — I enjoy my stay, play my best tennis.”
No. 9 Johanna Konta beat Madison Brengle 6-3, 6-1, handing the U.S. a 10th loss in 11 first-round women’s matches.
The first-round upsets included Venus Williams, U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens and CoCo Vandeweghe, a semifinalist here and at the U.S. Open last year.
“It’s a testament to how many great first- and second-round matches we have,” Konta said of the early upsets. “Shows how much depth we have in the women’s game right now.”
Konta will next meet Bernarda Pera, a lucky loser in the qualifying tournament who registered the second win by an American woman at the tournament when she beat Russian qualifier Anna Blinkova 6-2, 6-2.
No. 20 Barbora Strycova’s 6-1, 7-5 win over wild-card entry Kristie Ahn and Aliaksandra Sasnovich beat Christina McHale 6-3, 6-2 to make it 2 for 13 for the U.S. women so far.
Former No. 1-ranked Karolina Pliskova opened with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Veronica Cepede Royg, No. 8 Caroline Garcia beat Carina Witthoft 7-5, 6-3 and No. 29 Lucie Safarova defeated Ajla Tomljanovic 7-5, 6-3.
No. 13 Sam Querrey restored some order for the U.S. men with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win over Feliciano Lopez, advancing to the second round. Two other U.S. contenders, No. 8 Jack Sock and No. 16 John Isner, were among the first-round casualties on Monday.
No. 20 Roberto Bautista Agut and No. 22 Milos Raonic, a former Wimbledon finalist, were beaten.
Bautista Agut lost to fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, a semifinalist here in 2009, and Raonic lost 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (4) to Lukas Lacko in the opening match on Show Court 2.
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